Select Page


Steel and iron components make up around 65% of the average vehicle. Once all fluids have been drained and reusable parts removed from an automobile, scrap processors shred it and sell the valuable ferrous material to steel mills. The average recycling rate for steel and iron in cars is about 90%.

Steel cans are the most recycled food and beverage container in the world. In South Africa and Japan recycling rates for steel packaging are close to 90%, and in Belgium the rate is 93%.

Steel-to-steel recycling means that a steel can is just as likely to become part of a bridge, a car, or a ship, in its next life. Steel is 100% recyclable. It can be recycled any number of times without loss of quality. It is one of the only materials that does not lose its properties when recycled.

Even after incineration steel can be recovered for recycling. This is made possible by the fact that steel is magnetic.
Recycled steel is as strong and durable as new steel made from iron ore.

To learn more about steel and recycling, visit the following websites: (World Steel Association) (American Iron and Steel Institute) (Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging) (Collect-a-Can Ltd.)

SCRAP METAL RECYCLING 101 – A GUIDE FOR COMPLETE BEGINNERS (a great resource from Vericheck Technical Services, Inc., posted by permission)  This is a very detailed article on U.S. auto recycling  written by Junk Car Medics.  WorldAutoSteel is not associated with this publication nor did we provide data input.  The article is based on the organization’s own research.

Recycling Steel and Iron Used in Automobiles

  • Steel’s importance in automobiles
  • Recycling efforts
  • Recycled content of automobiles
  • The basics of recycling automobiles
  • Vehicle recycling environmental benefits

Steel’s Importance in Automobiles

We rely on automobiles to transport us from place to place. We also rely on automobiles to keep us safe. Fortunately auto manufacturers depend on steel to protect their customers. In addition to its strength, durability and dependability, steel is also recyclable and contains recycled steel.

Recycling Efforts
Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product. Each year, the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from end-of-life vehicles. This is equivalent to nearly 13.5 million automobiles. When comparing the amount of steel recycled from automobiles each year to the amount of steel used to produce new automobiles that same year, automobiles maintain a recycling rate of nearly 100 percent.

Recycled Content of Automobiles
By weight, the typical passenger car consists of about 65 percent steel and iron. The steel used in car bodies is made with about 25 percent recycled steel. Many internal steel and iron parts are made using even higher percentages of recycled steel. All steel products contain recycled steel because steel scrap is a necessary ingredient in the production of new steel. Steel scrap is derived not only from automobiles but also from steel cans, appliances and construction material.

The Basics of Recycling Automobiles
Old cars are typically hauled to an automobile dismantler, where reusable parts are removed. After removing the reusable parts and other items like batteries, tires and fluids, the hulks are usually shipped to ferrous scrap processors where they are weighed for payment and unloaded. At a scrap yard, the automobiles enter the shredder. The shredding process, which typically handles one car every 45 seconds, generates three streams: iron and steel; nonferrous metal; and fluff (fabric, rubber, glass, etc.). The iron and steel are magnetically separated from the other materials and recycled. The iron and steel is then shipped to end markets or steel mills where it is recycled to produce new steel.

Environmental Benefits
Recycling steel saves energy and natural resources. The U.S. steel industry alone annually saves the equivalent energy to power about 18 million households for a year. Recycling one ton of steel conserves 1134 kilograms of iron ore, 635 kilograms of coal and 54 kilograms of limestone.

Source: American Iron and Steel Institute

The Inherent Recycled Content of Today’s Steel

This instructive paper, published by the American Iron and Steel Institute, provides an overview of the methods used to produce steel in North America today, and describes steel’s inherent recycled content.  Though its facts and statistics are specific to the North American marketplace, it provides valuable information on today’s steel recycling practices.

Contemporary technologies produce steel in two ways, both of which require old steel to make new:  1) The basic oxygen furnace (BOF) process uses 25 to 35 percent old steel to make new. It produces products—such as automotive fenders, encasements of refrigerators, and packaging like soup cans, five-gallon pails, and 55-gallon drums—whose major required characteristic is drawability; 2) The electric arc furnace (EAF) process uses more than 80 percent old steel to make new. It produces products— such as structural beams, steel plates, and reinforcement bars—whose major required characteristic is strength.

Many are surprised to learn that steel is the world’s, as well as North America’s, most recycled material, and in the United States alone, almost 73 million tons of steel were recycled or exported for recycling in 2006. This is done for economic as well as environmental reasons. It is always cheaper to recycle steel than to mine virgin ore and move it through the process of making new steel. However, it should also be clearly understood that many steel applications are durables, and even though two out of every three pounds of new steel are produced from old steel, the fact that cars, appliances, and bridges last a long time makes it necessary to continue to mine virgin ore to supplement the production of new steel.

Economic expansion, domestically and internationally, creates additional demand that cannot be fully met by available scrap supplies. Unlike other competing industries, recycled content in the steel industry is second nature. The North American steel industry has been recycling steel scrap for over 160 years through the growth of 1,800 scrap processors and some 12,500 auto dismantlers. Many of them have been in the business for more than 100 years.

The pre-consumer, post-consumer, and total recycled content of steel products in the United States can be determined for the calendar year 2006 using information from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI),the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), and the U.S. Geological Survey. Additionally, a study prepared for the AISI by William T. Hogan, S.A., and Frank T. Koelble of Fordham University is used to establish pre- and post-consumer fractions of purchased scrap.

Individual company statistics are not applicable or instructive because of the open loop recycling capability that the steel and iron industries enjoy, with available scrap typically going to the closest melting furnace. This open loop recycling allows, for example, an old car to be melted down to produce a new soup can, and then, as the new soup can is recycled, it is melted down to produce a new car, appliance, or perhaps a structural beam used to repair some portion of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Source:  American Iron and Steel Institute